Reason to Give
Police departments begin their charity work for many different reasons. For Detective Sgt. Joseph Rinke of the Hasbrouck Heights PD, it began with an ambulance ride where he met a young boy named Joey Peters who had badly cut his face. Two years later, Joey's mother appealed to the Police Benevolent Association for assistance in obtaining a hearing aid for him. The boy's father had lost his job and the family had no insurance. Rinke knew he had to do something more than just give a donation that wouldn't cover the full cost of the medical device.
"I thought maybe we should make it a community affair, where all the families could come, have a good time and get the whole thing taken care of in a nutshell," says Rinke. "That way Joey's mother wouldn't have to go around to different agencies asking for donations."
Rinke organized a pasta dinner to raise funds to purchase Joey a hearing aid. It took a lot of effort on the part of the 12,000 residents of the small town. But families pitched in and the event was so successful that there was even some money left over. That money was used to help others in need and inspired the department to campaign for other charitable causes.
Now, Hasbrouk Heights PD also holds a bike marathon on Memorial Day weekend for children in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Teams of four or five children take turns riding around a track for 24 hours. In between laps they take naps in tents, play music, and enjoy an event where even the parents get involved. The winners all get brand new bikes.
Boulder PD uses bikes to reach out to children as well. Since Boulder is a bicycle community, officers teach bike safety and cover other safety issues. Like Hasbrouk Heights, Boulder has expanded its charitable causes to include funding to fight Muscular Dystrophy and helping children from local low-income projects. Officers also participate in the Toys for Tots drive, personally distributing the toys in uniform.
It's not only kids and bikes and costumed officers that draw the crowds, but animals as well.
In Connecticut, the state police and local departments have come to rely on their K-9 counterparts to raise money for worthy causes. This year agencies participated in the 13th K-9 Olympics fundraiser. Teams of dogs from the local agencies compete in an arena-style setting. According to Sgt. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police, "the turnout is pretty spectacular!"
While the crowds are drawn to the dogs, Vance says the police wives draw in the money by selling food, coffee, and souvenirs. The money raised is donated to the Hole in the Wall Gang, a camp for people with cancer, in addition to a relief fund for 9/11 victims and other charities.
A Growing Tradition
One of the best examples of an organized and creative police charity comes from Wickenburg, Arizona.
A tradition was started there more than 20 years ago when a few cops started "passing the hat" during the holiday season.
According to retired officer Roy Reyer, who is now with the group Cops Who Care, after awhile it became too difficult for he and his fellow officers to get to all the families that needed their help on their own. "So myself and other families decided to go and ask for businesses and other organizations to help us out," says Reyer. "Once they signed on, instead of one family, we were able to help five."
Then, Reyer says, he put a letter in the local newspaper the week before Christmas and within a week raised $6,000, enough to get toys for 200 children. What started as a small gift of love and time grew into a yearly event.
Because the Arizona area where Cops Who Care operates is a farming community and the holidays are a prime picking season, a large number of migrant workers often found themselves there with no way to celebrate the holidays. There were also areas with a large low-income population.
Knowing this, and having raised so much money in such a short time, spurred the small group on.
"We said, 'Let's try to be a little more organized,'" says Reyer. With the help of other departments in the surrounding areas-including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Maricopa Police Department, and the Yavapai Police Department-the group expanded and a corporation of law enforcement agencies and public services agencies was established.
In its second official year in operation, Cops Who Care raised enough money to buy toys for 600 children.
As each year proved more successful than the last, the group became even more determined to continue the trend of giving. And it did. Members held a car show last year and required everyone who attended to bring a toy. When it was over, 5,000 toys had been donated. The group also holds a chili cook off hot enough to attract the best chili cooks in the state of Arizona.
The organization has grown so big that it has expanded to include other holidays.
Cops Who Care now holds an annual Easter egg hunt, which Reyer says is "a great way for the police officers to get to know the young children." It also hosts a Fourth of July celebration complete with relay races, leapfrog, and other games in which police officers interact with participating children and give out prizes.
Outside of the holiday seasons, the group also sponsors little league sports teams and a pee-wee football team. They help needy children at the beginning of the year, giving younger children what they call scholarships, which include clothing, school supplies, and other things their parents can't afford.
Cops Who Care members take an active interest in children's lives, taking children on field trips to places like water parks and funding drug education programs, in addition to teen dances and other popular events.
"We have grown from passing the hat once a year to now doing something every few months. We do some kind of activity that the officers are involved in with kids. And we don't limit it to at-risk kids. Our prime focus is showing all kids that cops are here to help them, cops care," says Reyer.
And while he may be retired from police work, he hasn't retired from helping others. Nor have the many who help him: the officers, their wives, and their families. They buy presents, wrap them, and make sure they get to the right families.
"It's a second full-time job," Reyer says, adding with a smile, "I can't get out of it; nobody will let me leave it."
Reyer's apparent enthusiasm and pride for the program are evident and it appears that he and the others involved are getting their own rewards from their efforts.
Members of police departments who have become involved with local community charities agree that there are many benefits: the obvious satisfaction of giving their time to people who need it, the ability to interact on a positive level with the community, and perhaps the greatest benefit of all, the feeling of knowing they are helping others, something many of them say goes back to why they first came on the job.